Newts vs. Salamanders (8 Key Differences)

Salamanders and newts are both amphibians, have similar appearances, and are found commonly throughout North America. However, while all newts are considered salamanders, not all salamanders are newts. In this article, we’ll explore why some salamanders are called newts and provide an in-depth look at the key differences of newts vs salamanders.

Newts vs Salamanders

All newts are members of the family Salamandridae, which also includes “true” salamanders. However, there are various salamander species found in nine other families.

How are Newts and Salamanders Similar?

Both newts and salamanders are amphibians with three-chambered hearts, backbones, and no scales. The word amphibian is from the Greek term meaning “double life,” since most are semi-aquatic, living both on land and water. They both look like a combination of a frog and a lizard. There are also species of newts and salamanders where their tails can grow back if dropped or cut off.

Other similarities between the two include their diets. Newts and salamanders are carnivorous and slow-moving predators. They tend to ambush their prey or eat slow invertebrates, such as slugs, worms, or snails. Species that live in the water will also eat fish or small crustaceans, such as crayfish.

What is a Salamander?

tiger salamander by USFWS Midwest Region via Flickr

The word salamander includes an entire group of amphibians with tails as adults. This group includes newts and sirens. Sirens are salamanders with lungs and gills that don’t develop beyond the larval stage or have hind legs. In general, though, most salamander species don’t have lungs. Instead, they have feathery gills or absorb oxygen through their skin.

What is a Newt?

eastern newt

Newts are a type of salamander that is part of the family Salamandridae. A fun fact to note is that some newts have flown on space missions! In 1994 and 1995, two space missions studied Japanese red-bellied newts laying eggs in orbit. Among other things, they wanted to know how space travel impacts the newt’s ability to regrow body parts.

Newts differ from other salamander species in various ways, including skin and their living habits. Most of them also develop lungs as they become adults. Read on to learn more about the differences that make these salamander species called newts.

8 Key Differences Between Newts and Salamanders

1. Scientific Classification

Although not something you can see in appearance, the main distinction between newts and salamanders is how they are scientifically classified within the family Salamandridae. True salamanders in this family belong to the genera MertensiellaChioglossa, and Salamandra. However, newts belong to one of the following genera:

  • Cynops
  • Echinotriton
  • Euproctus
  • Neurergus
  • Notophthalmus
  • Pachytriton
  • Paramesotriton
  • Pleurodeles
  • Taricha
  • Triturus
  • Tylototriton

2. Habitat

Newts tend to spend more time in the water than salamanders do. Most newts are aquatic and live their adult lives in the water. Many salamanders may start their lives in water but grow to become terrestrial as adults, only returning to the water for breeding. Salamanders can be found on land under logs, trees, boulders, or even burrowed in the earth. You can even find salamanders in rock cracks, swamps, caves, and streams.

3. Breeding

Most salamanders that spend time on land will also lay their eggs on land. Usually, aquatic salamanders, or newts living mostly in water, will lay eggs on underwater plants. Generally, newts will lay more eggs than salamanders due to their aquatic nature.

4. Toxicity

While there are big salamander species that look scarier than the smaller, cute-looking newts, most salamanders are harmless to humans. On the other hand, most newts are more toxic than other salamander species. They have poison glands in their skin, making them mildly or highly toxic to humans or other animals. Since newts are generally smaller than salamanders, they use their toxicity as a protective measure to irritate predators. Newts in the genus Taricha can secrete tetrodotoxin, which can even kill humans.

5. Skin Texture

Salamanders generally have smooth, moist, and even slimy skin. However, newts usually have skin that is rougher or coarser. Some newts are even warty or dry in appearance and can grow a crest on their backs. This makes them look like underwater dragons.

6. Skin Color

blue-spotted salamander | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Since newts are more toxic than salamanders, they also tend to have brightly colored skin to warn predators to stay away. Most salamanders have dark or dull skin colors, even though some may have bright spots or markings on their bodies.

7. Feet and Tail Shape

Due to their more aquatic nature, newts generally have tails shaped like paddles and webbed feet. These characteristics allow them to swim better in water. Most salamanders have lizard-like slim tails and feet with digits that allow them to walk, climb, or dig on land. One species of salamander even has a tail adapted to help them easily climb trees as if they were swimming.

8. Lifespan

While the average lifespan of both salamanders and newts is between 5 to 25 years, there are salamander species that can generally live longer than newts. For example, the Blind Cave salamander (Proteus anguinus) is the oldest known salamander species because of its slow metabolism and limited activity needs. In captivity, they can live for over 70 years. It is predicted that in the wild, they live an average of 100 years.